Tag Archives: training

Bushwalking Fitness | Pt 2 Impact of Age

What impact does age have on fitness? How should I vary my training to suit my age? How can I measure my level of fitness?

Statistics show that 45 to 65 is the largest age group in bushwalking clubs. No doubt many have recently joined a club to get fit, others have been bushwalkers for many years, but all will be aware that as they get older they need to exercise regularly to maintain a high level of fitness and counteract the ageing process. Not only do you need to continue to exercise regularly as you get older but you probably will need to modify your diet to compensate for a decrease in BMR (basal metabolic rate), which means you will need to eat less.

My personal experience has shown that not only has growing older reduced my aerobic capacity but that it now takes much longer, after a break from training, to recover former levels of fitness.

Research has shown that aerobic fitness decreases from 35 years and accelerates as you get older, losing 10-15% each year once you reach 50. As you get older you lose muscle mass, increase fat and your ability to pump blood around your body decreases. However there is hope; keep exercising at a high level and you can slow down the process of ageing.

Generally accepted wisdom is that you should train at between 65 – 85% of maximum heart rate and this is calculated by subtracting your age from 220 (beats per minute). This means that as you get older, you are advised by most to exercise at a lower intensity. The research above however indicates that those over 50 might be better exercising at a higher intensity, using interval training, and reducing the volume of their training.

Cross-training (walking, riding, climbing, skiing) is one way to keep training volume high and maintain high levels of motivation while at the same time reducing muscle-tissue damage, which sometimes results from repetitive running. As muscle mass decreases with age, strength training becomes important and should not be ignored, especially if heavy pack carrying is part of your normal bushwalking.

I find that my motivation is helped by regularly measuring my fitness/health and observing positive progress. There are four main fitness monitoring devices, three of which do a similar job and the fourth measures body characteristics:

  • Smart Phones eg Nokia, iPhone (with or without heart Rate Monitor): upload to a dedicated website
  • Nike shoe sensors (iPod, iPhone): senses movement and upload to you upload to iPod, iPhone from where it can be uploaded to a dedicated website for analysis
  • POLAR wristwatches with heart rate monitor strap: upload to you computer or watch
  • Body Composition Monitors : such as the Tanita InnerScan which measure Weight, Body Fat %, Body Water %, Daily Caloric Intake, Metabolic Age, Bone Mass, Muscle Mass, Physique Rating, and Visceral Fat Rating, adjusted according to your gender, age, height and weight, and rated against population statistics. All you have to do is stand on the device, which looks like normal body mass scale. This device is surprising accurate showing trends such as improving metabolic age as fitness improves, and correlates with the fitness level shown by my Polar wristwatch. I would highly recommend the purchase of this body composition monitor, which has been a great source of motivation for me.

See also:

From an earlier post:Using your Smartphone to Monitor Fitness Levels for Bushwalkers and Hikers
FAQ – Age and Exercise (Roger Caffin)

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Bushwalking Fitness | Pt 1 Why, How and When?

How does bushwalking fitness differ from general fitness? Are there specific training methods that will help bushwalkers?  How long in advance should I start training for a specific bushwalk?


You will enjoy your bushwalk much better if you are fit, so that you have time and energy to talk to your fellow bushwalkers, admire the environment and take photos. Getting fit requires a well balanced program to develop the strength to carry a backpack, leg strength (quadriceps and knees) for hill climbing/descent, aerobic fitness and stamina. The two key components are cardiovascular (heart) fitness  and motor fitness (particularly strength, endurance and balance).

Getting fit can take many months, up to six for a strenuous multi-day expedition,  so don’t leave it till the last moment! Intense training under expert guidance can shorten this to as little as 6 – 8 weeks, for an 80% gain of what you could have achieved in 6 months.

If you have access to a fitness consultant/personal trainer, perhaps at your local gym, seek advice before you start training. Have the trainer determine your current fitness level or perhaps measure it yourself. I have posted some ideas to help you do this previously. Using your Smartphone to Monitor Fitness Levels for Bushwalkers and Hikers

Check with your doctor, whether you have any underlying health problems that could preclude certain types of training. Decide, in consultation, whether you need upper body strengthening exercises, how many sessions you will require, their type and their duration per week.

Your aerobic conditioning program should keep your heart rate high (65-85% of maximum rate, adjusted for age) and last 30- 60 mins per day, leaving some rest days. Interval training over at least a  three month period can further increase your cardiovascular fitness.

Stamina and strength training should replicate the terrain and weight carrying you will experience when bushwalking. There is little point in training on the flat, for short durations, at high speed with no pack, if your bushwalking is likely to be over hilly terrain, with a heavy pack and for 8-10 hours at a time. Gym fitness often doesn’t translate to fitness on a bushwalk.

Try stair climbing, if you have no hilly terrain near your home, or perhaps use a treadmill with an incline or a stepping machine. Start wearing your backpack as you get fitter.

In general, try to reproduce the terrain, weight carrying, duration and speed needed during your training. Be careful to build up slowly and not to overdo the frequency, intensity and duration of training too early. Don’t ignore the value of building up balance and  movement skills, which will allow you to move faster over difficult terrain. Scrambling skills are very useful!

Training for long days of bushwalking requires long days of training. Concentrate on legs, back and lungs! The number of sessions will vary, but 2-3 sessions per week with a backpack, gradually increasing to the likely weight will be most effective.

 Some Tips

Aerobic exercises could include:

  • climbing AND descending hills or stairs
  • running, cycling, skiing, snowboarding

Don’t forget to:

  • warm up and warm down with a 10-15 minute aerobic warm up and 5 – 10 minute warm down
  • Stretch for 15 minutes after warm up and immediately after your workout.


RMI Training Recommendations ( pdf download)
An RMI Guide Shares his Views on Training (pdf download)
Training for climbing, trekking and skiing…. ( IcicleUK.com)

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Bushwalk Leadership Training | Accredited Courses for South Australians

Some Accredited Courses for South Australian Bushwalkers

Bushwalking Leadership SA

Bushwalking Leadership SA (BLSA) offers two programs

1. Day Walk Leadership Program.

“The Day Walk Leadership program is similar to the Bushwalking Leadership Program but differs in that it prepares leaders for Day walks only. It does not cover camp site management, extended navigation and , of course, overnight management. It does assume some experience of day walking but also can taken as an introduction to bushwalking leadership.The day walking leader program has four components, is flexible and designed to meet the needs of particular groups such as walking clubs and community groups. As such it is usually run on an ‘as needed’ basis.”

  1. Theory component which can be run either as short evening sessions or as a full day session.
  2. Weekend field instruction and experience trip where navigation, search and rescue, group management and extended, overnight care is covered.
  3. Completion of a number experience walks where another leader is observed in varying conditions
  4. Finally an assessment is completed which comprises a theory test and a group management assessment walk.

2.  The Bushwalking Leadership Program leading to the Advanced Bushwalk Leader’s Certificate (see below)

The Bushwalking Leadership Program is open to any walker who has had experience and or training in overnight bushwalking. It is primarily a LEADERSHIP course for leading groups on overnight walks and assumes that applicants are already competent bushwalkers.

1. Assistant Bushwalking Leader Certificate (BLSA)

This 7 day residential course provides instruction in navigation and map reading, addresses issues of group management, leadership, trip planning and emergency procedures including search and rescue techniques. The last 3 days of this course put theory into practice with a self reliant bush walk.

2. Interim training:

Candidates are required to complete a range of walks in different environmental conditions and with different groups. An Adviser is allocated to each candidate to provide assistance and guidance as required. The interim training period comprises:-14 days practical experience, completing 2 and 3 day walks.

  • as a participant
  • as a leader
  • in a variety of weather conditions including cold and wet
  • in a variety of venues including the Flinders Ranges north of Wilmington and in the Grampians or equivalent with a variety of groups: including juvenile or school group and an adult group.

A Record Book is issued and used to record experience during the interim training period.

3. Bushwalking Leadership Certificate (BLSA )

 Upon successful completion of the interim training period, candidates must successfully complete the following assessment components:

  • Theory Exam
  • Seminar weekend or equivalent
  • Personal Skills Assessment (2 days)
  • Group Management Assessment (2 days)

4. Advanced Bushwalk Leader Interim Training

Following successful completion of the Bushwalking Leader Certificate, candidates may wish to continue to the advanced phase. 14 days practical experience is required, completing 3 and 4 day walks:

  • as a participant
  • as a leader
  • in the Central or Northern Flinders Ranges
  • in the highland areas of Eastern Australia, New Zealand or Tasmania
  • in hot and dry conditions

In addition candidates must complete training in steep terrain group management and complete General Mountain Training or its equivalent.

5. Advanced Bushwalking Leader Assessment
Upon successful completion of the advanced interim period candidates must complete the following assessment components:

  • Theory Exam
  • Advanced Group Management Assessment

View other relevant posts in this Bushwalk Leadership Series

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Bushwalk Leadership Training | How to Change a Club’s Training Culture

How do you change the Club culture? How do you encourage leaders to improve their skills? Should leaders be required to under take some training each year to retain their leadership “accreditation”?  What sort of training would be appropriate?

It would be rather presumptuous of me to suggest that there is only one answer to this complex problem, which has troubled many a Club’s Training and Safety Officer. Any solution will however need to recognise that this will be a significant change for many Club members and hence to be successful will involve proven change-management techniques.

No doubt any possible solution will include at least some of the following:

  • recognition by Club members that the Club’s leadership skills need to be improved.
  • belief in the need for training by the Club Committee, followed by adequate consultation to design the program and then promotion by prominent Committee members.
  • commencement with a small and carefully selected program which will be acceptable to leaders and can be successfully completed by all
  • involvement of respected “elders” in the Club, both as instructors and participants
  • recognition of those who have participated in, and provided, the training
  • awareness raising by having one of the participants outline what they learned at a Club meeting or newsletter

An annual accreditation requirement could be used to encourage  participation in leadership training, but this needs to be delicately handled to avoid putting “experienced” leaders offside. Leaders could be expected to gain a minimum of 10 points per year  (equivalent to 6 hrs training) to retain their leadership “credentials”.

Some non-threatening examples could be:

  • Senior First Aid Refresher  (10 pts)
  • GPS use (2 pts)
  • PLB use (2 pts)
  • Pre-trip planning ( 2-5 pts)
  • Stove types, use and maintenance (2 pts)
  • Dehydrator use and menus (2 pts)
  • Navigation refresher ( 5-10 points)
  • Ultra-lightweight backpacking ( 2 pts)
  • Lightweight cooking and menus ( 2-5 pts)

For those who want some more theoretical training

The accreditation requirement (10 pts)  should be incorporated into an annual  Leadership Training Weekend, with topics being rotated from year to year.

To make the process less threatening, some of this training could be carried out by “expert” Club mentors during Club walks or on a one-to-one basis. It should be possible in each Club to establish a list of “go-to” people who would be willing to make themselves available for specific skills training. Leaders who were prepared to give training sessions for other leaders could be credited with double the number of points that a participant would gain.

Some Clubs have a policy of subsidizing leaders who attend accredited training courses, if they are willing to pass on the knowledge and skills they have learnt. This not only encourages participation in training in a positive way but shows that the Club values training and this is an important step in changing a Club culture which is less than enthusiastic about the importance of training.

View other relevant posts in this Bushwalk Leadership Series

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Bushwalk Leadership Training | The Need for a Change in Club Culture

Which skills do Club bushwalk leaders sometimes lack? Why is there often a Club “anti-training” culture?

Over the years I have walked with many different bushwalk leaders and from each I have learnt new bushwalking skills. Sometimes I have noticed contradictions, but there is rarely the opportunity to question and if there is, it is sometimes difficult not to offend, appear to challenge the status quo or appear critical.

Formal bushwalk training, undertaken through organisations such as Bushwalking Leadership SA, actually encourages and expects participants to ask questions. The presenters welcome people challenging their ideas and because of their active involvement in leadership training are aware of differences in techniques and are able to offer alternatives, based on their own experience and that of others.

In my experience, many Club leaders sometimes have limited skills in group management and don’t see there is any need to develop them. They often believe that they are leading a group of peers who are able to look after themselves. They fail to recognise that most Club walks have new members who need to be made welcome and integrated into the group if they are to remain Club members. They fail to recognise that often walks have “dependents”, who despite their maturity, are inexperienced in terms of bushwalking skills and need to be actively “supported”. They often fail to accept, that as the “leader”, their personal needs become subservient to the group as a whole.

Have you ever walked in a group where the leader is at the front, sometimes a long way in front, and is oblivious to the needs of the unfit “newbies” struggling at the back, with their overweight packs? If they are aware, have they offered to redistribute equipment so the group as a whole can make more rapid progress? Have you often worried, as “tail-end-charlie”, which way the group has gone at the intersection and wondered why the leader didn’t wait until everyone had arrived before moving off. Have you ever arrived last at a group break and found that instead of the 10 minutes everyone else got, that you got just 3 mins?

Have you ever watched an inexperienced or unskilled leader waiting for the group to assemble at the predetermined start time? How do they treat the “new member” who has failed to allocate sufficient time in the morning to get gear packed, have breakfast and attend to personal hygiene? Do they offer to help personally, assign someone who is already packed to help or do they stand there impatiently and then make comments about the “regrettable” late start?

Risk management skills are often intuitive among bushwalk leaders. They have often learnt over many years, usually by trial-and-error, what dangers there are in particular locations and at particular times of the year. This works fine provided they don’t venture outside of their “known world”, but do they have the knowledge and skills to cope if the circumstances fall outside their personal experience?

Some Club bushwalk leaders would see any attempt to encourage them to attend training courses as a criticism of their leadership credentials and therefore a personal attack. Some are blissfully unaware of the potential risks of their leadership style while others would see their attendance at a training course as an admission that they have something still to learn and a reflection on their status as a “Club elder”.

Fortunately, there are many others who see their bushwalking “careers” as a continual learning experience, who are open to new ideas and are aware of their role and obligations as bushwalk leaders.

The task is to convince the less enthusiastic  leaders that there are still things to learn which will make Club walks more enjoyable for everyone.

Visit other relevant posts in this Bushwalk Leadership Series

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Bushwalk Leadership Training | Is it necessary?

Do bushwalk leaders need training from qualified instructors? Can you learn on-the-job?  Will formal leadership training spoil the informality of Club walks?

First of all, I have to admit that I need no convincing of the benefits of skill training for the outdoors.  I have always believed that training from qualified and experienced practitioners is the best and quickest way to develop skills and confidence in the outdoors. Whenever I have wanted to broaden my outdoor skills,  seeking qualified instructors has always been my first step, and I have then applied this training in my own environment and refined it to suit my personality and goals.

The argument about whether young adults should be taught to drive by their parents or by a qualified driving instructor is similar in my view to how you should learn a new outdoor skill? When I decided to get a small  bus licence a few years ago, my employer paid for some lessons and this taught me that parents are not the best instructors for a learner-driver to have. I soon found that I had developed lots of bad habits over the many years since I first sat for my own driving test, some of which would have been sufficiently serious to fail me in my bus driving test, if not corrected. What if I had tried to teach my own children to drive? Would I have passed on my bad habits to them?

Learning-on-the-job is often the best way to learn, but only if the mentor has kept up-to-date with recent advances and has broad experience outside the Club. Many Clubs have a leadership structure where “leaders-in-training” are assessed and coached by experience Club members, almost all of whom have had no formal training and most of whom, have learnt from other “senior” Club members, who in turn have learnt from other “senior” Club members. There is a real risk that bad habits are passed from one generation of Club members to the next and that this “in-breeding” becomes a Club tradition.

Some Clubs are openly antagonistic to ideas from outside which threaten the status quo and challenge the Club’s way of doing things. Sadly I can recall many years ago, when I was about to attend my first Club walk, being warned never to mention I had any formal bushwalking training.

In many Clubs things have not changed.

Formal leadership and skills training should not spoil the informality of Club walks, rather it should improve the enjoyment and safety of all.

Visit other relevant posts in this Bushwalk Leadership Series

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Are the Adventure Activity Standards (AAS) Relevant to Bushwalking Clubs?

Are the Adventure Activity Standards (AAS) relevant to bushwalking Clubs? What are the benefits of adopting the AAS for bushwalking Clubs? What changes would need to be made to Club organisation to do so? Are their legal implications if AAS were adopted? How do the AAS mesh with Club risk management?

“The Adventure Activity Standards (AAS) are voluntary guidelines for undertaking potentially risky activities in a manner designed to promote:

  1. Safety for both participants and providers,
  2. Protection for providers against legal liability claims and criminal penalties, and
  3. Assistance in obtaining insurance cover.

These AAS are NOT statutory standards imposed by law.” (Recreation SA, Bushwalking AAS 2006)

What could be more relevant than that to a bushwalking Club?

Two key statements appear in the AAS:

 “The AAS ……reflects minimal acceptable standards of behaviour expected when planning and undertaking outdoor adventure activities with inexperienced and dependent participants.”

This statement  makes it clear that the AAS are minimal standards which all Clubs should already have adopted when leaders are taking inexperienced walkers and therefore dependent walkers, on Club walks. Dependent does not mean school age, it means having to rely upon others for their safety and well being. In most Club walks there are dependents, whose safety is sometimes ignored by leaders, simply because the leader thinks that as adults they are responsible for their own safety.  The AAS makes it clear that this is not the case.

“Regardless of the extent to which the AAS is adopted, each organisation, guide and leader has a duty of care to its participants to have completed a risk analysis of the activity, and developed a risk management approach to address potential and unexpected situations.”  (Recreation SA, Bushwalking AAS 2006)

Many Clubs don’t take this seriously, with few leaders skilled in making a risk analysis for a bushwalk and even less having the necessary experience to anticipate risks. Pre-walk documentation is often sadly lacking and there is sometimes little vetting of this documentation where it is provided.

Benefits of AAS

I believe adoption of the AAS by Clubs will provide a framework and focus for upgrading the skills of  leaders, which will in turn make walks more enjoyable and safer for participants. The AAS have a focus on risk management and hopefully this will provide the impetus for each Club to develop their own risk management policies.

Each AAS has been developed in the following key areas:

    * Planning
    * Responsibility of the leaders
    * Equipment
    * Environment.

Changes Needed.

To adopt the AAS, your Club will probably need to do some of the following:

  • fine tune your Club walks (group size, leader; assistant: participant ratios, communication)
  • both broaden and deepen your training, both external and internal, to meet the needs of any proposed  leadership structure that you decide to adopt (eg first aid, clothing, group equipment, environment)
  • document the informal procedures your leaders already follow and do very well (eg activity plan, pre-trip documentation, risk management, emergency strategy)
  • more formally and transparently map your leaders and participants skills and experience with the walks they are allowed to lead and partake (eg restrict participation, devise a participation grid)
  • better inform participants of their obligations (eg voluntary assumption of risk,  inherent risks)
  • review the legal implications of your Club’s Constitution and Mission statement (duty to warn, waivers)

Legal Implications

If you can show that you have a transparent and public process to approve leaders and participants for walks based on their skill level and experience, then current advice is that you should be safe from legal claims and penalties.

Are the AAS a liability?  Read more from an alternative viewpoint

To download the relevant Adventure Activity Standards (AAS) click on one of the links below

Victorian AAS
Western Australian AAS
South Australian AAS
Queensland AAS
Tasmania AAS

For a less positive viewpoint on the value of the Adventure Activity Standards visit the Adventure Victoria website

Visit other relevant posts in this Bushwalk Leadership Series

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Bushwalk Leadership Training | A Weekend Club Training Program

A Bushwalk Leaders weekend held at least once a year is essential so that all Club walk leaders can fulfill their duty of care. Aspiring leaders and those who have let their skills get a little rusty, will all benefit.

SESSION 1: Map Reading

SESSION 2:  Navigation

The following two sessions could be held on the  second day, basing it on the Adventure Activity Standards (AAS)

SESSION 3: Trip Planning (2-3 hours)

Prerequisites: knowledge of bearings and how to use a compass to plot a route

This could follow the outline given in the AAS p13-15,

1.1 Considerations for developing an activity plan …13
1.2 Pre-trip documentation …………………………………14
1.3 Risk management…………………………………………14
1.4 Emergency strategy……………………………………..15
1.5 Restriction to participation ……………………………15

but could be  supplemented by local examples, templates and a hands-on trial using a well known area. Online resources and access by blog (preferred option), phone and email to mentors willing to provide assistance on specific topics would be provided. Participants, working together in pairs, would need to be provided with maps and compasses.

SESSION 4: Role of Leader (1-2 hours)

This would largely follow AAS pp 15-21,

2 Responsibilities of the trip leader/assistant  (1-2 hrs) p15

2.1 Skills expected of a leader p16

2.1.1 Bushwalking Leader on ‘Urban walks’ p16
2.1.2 Bushwalking Leader on Tracked or Easy Untracked (Easy) p16
2.1.3 Bushwalking Leader on Difficult and Trackless (Intermediate) p17
2.1.4 Bushwalking Leader on Unmodified landscapes (Advanced) p18

2.2 First aid p18
2.3 Specific responsibilities of the trip leader  p19
2.4 Assistant to the trip leader  p19
2.5 Communication p20
2.6 Ratios of trip leader and assistant/s to participants p20
2.7 Group size  p21

but would be modified to suit your Club based on your knowledge of current practices and be developed in consultation with several senior club members, who have some empathy for the AAS. Online resources and access by blog (preferred option), phone and email to mentors willing to provide assistance on specific topics would provided.

The third session would work better if it were in a well lit environment where maps could be laid flat eg tables and chairs.

Additional Sessions

  1. Suitable for either day, a session on what to do if lost, from both the lost and the searcher’s perspective would be useful. This seems to be under emphasized or missing from the pre-walk briefing given by most walk leaders. Perhaps a few preventative measures could be presented. With the tendency for Club walks to have a long tail which is often out of contact with the leader, this is an obvious danger.
  2. With an aging Club membership,  you might like to include  a session dealing with heart attacks and managing your group after a serious incident such as this.

View other relevant posts in this Bushwalk Leadership Series

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Does your Bushwalking Club Need a Training and Safety Officer?

 Does your bushwalking Club need a Safety Officer and what would their role be? Does your Club need a Training Officer? Can the two roles be combined?  Who could constitute your Training and Safety sub-committee? What could be included in the job description of a TSO?

I  believe that if your Club is going to take the training of leaders and new members seriously then you need a Training and  Safety Officer.  I believe the one person can and should fulfill both roles as the two are integrated; maintaining a culture of safety during walks benefits from a training program.

The Training and  Safety subcommittee could include:

  • the “Walks Secretary” or his/her deputy
  • someone who has had some formal bushwalk training or for South Australians,  a rep from Bushwalk Leadership SA
  • the “New Members Secretary” or their deputy
  • someone with recent involvement on a Training or Safety committee in another bushwalk club, preferably with knowledge of the Adventure Activity Standards (AAS)

This makes 5, but as you know it is rare to get full attendance at any Committee meeting.

Summary of the Role of the Training and Safety Officer

  • chairing the Training and Safety subcommittee,  
  • ensuring compliance with AAS
  • attending Committee meetings.
  • auditing current leadership practices
  • development of a leadership development program
  • encouraging a change of culture if needed 

Template Job Description: Training and Safety Officer

  • encouraging a culture of safety, with all members and all leaders walking within their capabilities
  • promoting ongoing training as a requirement of membership renewal
  • organising training for potential leaders and those seeking updates
  • establishing a database of training resources to assist members seeking to improve their skills and knowledge
  • establishing and supporting a mentoring program for potential leaders and new members
  • auditing, reviewing and recommending changes to current bushwalk documentation and procedures, taking into consideration the AAS
  • maintaining an Incident Register. Assess and report on appropriate action.
  • chairing the Training and Safety sub-committee and making recommendations to the Committee

More specifically the responsibilities could include

  • utilising internal and external resources to improve the skills, knowledge and hence the enjoyment of members while walking
  • liaising with existing training providers to provided customised courses for Club members
  • publicising existing courses at meetings, on the Club website and in your magazine
  • negotiating group discounts for Club members attending courses eg first aid
  • providing training and documentation for walk leaders so they can effectively mentor new members on their walks
  • encouraging leaders to offer the opportunity for self reflection and feedback at the conclusion of each walk
  • monitoring the progress of new members, through a log book system, so that they progress through a series graduated of walks
  • encouraging and advising members wishing to be involved in accredited training, with a system of internal recognition and benefits
  • developing guidelines for internal accreditation of leaders, with an ongoing re-accreditation process
  • encouraging, facilitating and mentoring experienced members to share their skills and knowledge with others
  • developing a database of “go-to” people within the Club with particular skills or knowledge
  • encouraging and facilitating Club “go-to” people to document their skills and knowledge for sharing with others
  • developing  online resources to assist members wishing to gain leadership skills (PowerPoint’s, brochures, podcasts, web links)
  • developing a culture of sharing knowledge and skills with others 
  • developing recognition of the need to continually updating personal skills and knowledge,
  • developing a membership renewal requirement that each member attends one skill or knowledge update training session per year.

View other relevant posts in this Bushwalk Leadership Series

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Risk Management on a Bushwalk

The biggest risk on a bushwalk is a mismatch between the leader’s skill level, the participant’s past experience and the difficulty of the walk.

The leader’s skill level must match closely the terrain, degree of isolation and the weather expected. That is why most leadership courses are tiered:

  • Day walk leader
  • Bushwalk leader
  • Advanced bushwalk leader

The Adventure Activity Standards [AAS] has a good outline of the differences in skill level required at each tier and distinguishes three levels of difficulty

1. Bushwalking Leader on Tracked or Easy Untracked (Easy)

Tracked or easy untracked areas are reliably marked on maps and are obvious on the
ground. Tracks are inspected on a regular basis and road or other safe catching features
are easily reached within 2 hours by applying elementary navigation principles.

2. Bushwalking Leader on Difficult and Trackless (Intermediate)

Difficult or trackless areas are where there are limited modifications to the natural
surface so that track alignment is indistinct in places; there is minimal clearance along
the track; signage is minimal and only for management purposes; there are terrain and
man-made hazards (such as cliff lines or dense forests); the possibility for changes in
weather and visibility exists.

3. Bushwalking Leader on Unmodified landscapes (Advanced)

Unmodified landscapes are those which are totally natural where there are no
modifications to the natural surface so that track alignment is indistinct and no clearance
along the track; there is no signage; the track is not managed for public risk and where
the onset of extreme environmental conditions has a significant adverse impact upon the

Few Clubs have a formal structure to match the difficulty of the walk with the skills of the leader. Often this “approval” is an ad hoc process which involves the Club’s Walk’s Secretary, but without a formal structure it can fail eg when a there is a changeover of personnel or when the Walks Secretary has not actually walked the area himself/herself. There is a vast difference in being able to lead a walk along the Heysen trail and leading one into untracked and isolated areas such as the Mawson Plateau in SA or the Western Arthurs in Tasmania

Matching the experience of the participants with the difficulty of the walk is usually much better handled. Usually Club walks are coded according to difficulty, duration, and terrain so in theory the participants should self-select for the walks and there should be no problem.

Problems arise when the intended participant has no experience in the area to be walked and does not appreciate the difference between walking with a day pack in sunny weather along a well marked trail and carrying a 25 kg pack through mountainous terrain with a howling wind and sleet or snow. If the leader does not know the intended walker then there is the potential for this mismatch to be overlooked until it is too late, hence the need for a vetting system.

One way this problem can be overcome is for all walks to logged on the walker’s profile, along with the name of each leader, so that checks can easily be made of the walkers experience. Without a walker’s log, it is difficult to either locate relevant leaders, or to determine walker’s experience.

One alternative, is to take the group for a preparatory walk over some hilly terrain with a 25 kg bag of “lawn fertiliser” in each pack and satisfy yourself as leader that they are fit enough. Of course there is more than just physical fitness; mental fitness for a demanding walk is probably more important as is group compatibility.

Meet with your intended participants and chat about their past experience. Clubs which insist on face-to-face meeting between leaders and potential walkers as a pre-requisite for participation are “on the right track”.

See also:

Outdoor Recreation Industry Training Package

A Risk Management Framework (download pdf) (The Confederation of Bushwalking Clubs NSW, 2004)
RISK MANAGEMENT GUIDELINES for BUSHWALKING CLUBS  Federation of Victorian Walking Clubs (VicWalk 2004) Inc. (pdf format)
Guidelines for Leaders and Coordinators (pdf format) Canberra Bushwalking Club (June 2009)
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